What We Do in the Shadows' Harvey Guillén talks season 3 & Latinx queerness

David Opie
·9-min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

From Digital Spy

Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.

Next up, we're speaking to What We Do in the Shadows star Harvey Guillén.

"I’ve made a career out of going in for roles that weren’t meant for me," says Harvey Guillén, and what a phenomenal career that's turned out to be. Across a number of fan-favourite shows, including everything from The Magicians to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Harvey has effortlessly stolen every scene he's in.

That's particularly true when it comes to his biggest show yet, What We Do in the Shadows, but fans might be surprised to learn that the role of Guillermo wasn't "meant for him" either at first. "They were like, 'Yeah, you’re probably the wild card. This character’s older, so don’t get too crazy. But go in there and do your best.'"

Originally, the casting agents were looking for someone 20 years older — and British (!) — but that didn't stop Harvey from making the role his own. "I was like, 'I’m just going to do the character I think he would be. I’m going to age myself up. I’m going to wear this gross, old sweater vest.' I found these Harry Potter glasses. I parted my hair in the middle, and I curled it to the side. 'If this doesn’t get their attention...'

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Thankfully, that "wild card" audition paid off, and two weeks later, showrunners Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi called Harvey and asked him to join the cast directly on set, skipping the next stage of auditions entirely.

We caught up with Harvey to discuss the future of What We Do in the Shadows, queer Latinx representation, and what it's like to work in an industry where there still aren't enough roles for someone who is "round, brown and proud".

Congratulations on your Critics Choice Award nomination for What We Do in the Shadows! How did you feel when you heard the news?

It felt amazing. To be the first queer Latinx actor to be nominated is kind of a huge thing. We didn’t even think about that until after the nomination. It was like, "What?"

It’s a great moment, and also like, "Really? This is the first time?" I went down a rabbit hole, and realised, "Wow, there hasn’t been a queer Latinx nominated for an Emmy in that category." There’s a lot of firsts that can be fulfilled still, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

How's filming for season three going?

We’re in the middle — we cross-shoot the episodes. So in the first block, we shoot episodes 301, 302 and 303. In one day, we can shoot scenes from three episodes, which is a little jarring for the actor, because you’re like, "Wait, what happened?" You’ve got to keep track of things.

Most of the time, the vampires have storylines that wrap by the end of the episode, like: We went back to our old singing ways. And the band gets back together. Or how to work the internet. Or Colin gets a promotion at work.

In the past, Guillermo's storyline was the only one that was kind of linear, and step-by-step. We’ve only seen Guillermo with a storyline that kind of sprinkles every episode; sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle, and then leading up to the big climax of the season-two finale.

In this season, we have more of the other characters following that same road and trajectory, where it’s like, things are being sprinkled in every episode. Now I like that my cast mates are in the same boat, kind of running around with their heads cut off [laughs], because we’re all trying to put the pieces together.

The last time we saw Guillermo, he had just killed a whole bunch of vampires right in front of the others. What can you tease about his future following season two's cliffhanger ending?

Well, he’s definitely like, "Now the cat’s out of the bag." Or, I guess, the bat’s out of the bag, for lack of a better word. We’re picking up right where we left off, that’s for sure... But what’s to be done with this scenario? What’s to be done with someone who has shown their true colours, but also has shown their loyalty, and loyalty to the people who survive?

There’s a whole theatre of dead vampires somewhere. And it was all done in the name of protecting a household that he loves, who sometimes don’t treat him too well and aren’t nice to him. But they’re so self-absorbed, they won’t know the difference.

Photo credit: Instagram
Photo credit: Instagram

But at the end of the day, that’s what makes Guillermo Guillermo. It’s because he’s human. I think all of us, in our core, we want to do good, and we want to be good to one another. That’s what makes us human. And he won’t compromise on that, even when people are A-holes to his face, or mistreat him.

At the end of the day, he can live with his conscience, knowing that he did the right thing. So we definitely find him at a crossroads. Decisions will be made, and choices are presented. The rest, you’ll have to see.

One of the things we love most about What We Do in the Shadows is that pretty much everyone is just casually queer on the show — The vampires are into everyone. How do you feel about that fluidity?

I do like that. I thought it was subtle in the show. I’ve had some queer outlets say, "I love that it’s very subtle. But it’s not in your face. It should be there more."

I like the fact that it’s not the punchline of a story. Being queer doesn’t make you any different than the person whose storyline is being promoted as a hetero storyline. It should be seamless. It should be a love story. It should be a story of struggle, just like a hetero storyline.

It’s to make those characters breathe and live in a world where they do breathe and live every day. We live in a world where there’s all shades of colour. There’s queer people. There’s all of us. But why is it that when we see it on TV, it has to be isolated, and it usually ends up in a tragedy where there’s a queer storyline? Or it’s supposed to be taboo?

I love the idea that our show is a queer show, but it’s done in a way where it’s just smooth gliding. Even the most repressed person who’s watching the show who may not even be aware of it, that they’re enjoying a show that’s queer [laughs]. And they can’t tell the difference because they’re just having a good time, and they’re like, "Oh, yeah! The two guys went off and jerked each other off, and then went back…" [laughs]

It’s the idea that it’s so seamless. It’s not such a taboo or a [gasps] "They’re boys?" Just let them live their life. If they’re queer, they’re queer. Whatever they are, they are. Just let them breathe. I pride ourselves on being a show that’s inclusive.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

You've mentioned that there weren't many queer Latinx people in the spotlight when you were growing up. What's it like to now be that person for others?

I didn’t see anything on screen that represented myself. I didn’t really have someone to look up to. And people that were on TV that were Latinx, were either the gangbanger, or cleaning the toilets. They were never aspirational of something that represented the real life that I grew up living. Or if they were a person of size, they were always the butt of the jokes.

So looking back… I can see why it’s very discouraging to watch TV and not see yourself, and then turn away from your dream. But for me, it was the opposite. It was like: "If there’s nothing like you on television, then go out and be the first."

What challenges have you faced in the industry because of this?

There’s a lot. And there still is. I think we’re making progress and movement in the right direction. I can recall having a high-school teacher who… I told him, "I want to be on television. I want to do TV."

His response was, "As what?"

I was like, "As the lead of a comedy or whatnot."

He really jokingly said, "When pigs fly."

He very much meant it. He was a man who was in the industry, who was in Karate Kid II. He was Flower Boy #1 in a scene that got omitted. So I of course took everything he said with such weight [laughs], because at that moment, you don’t know any better.

I’m sure he was jaded by the industry and whatnot. But the way that he verbalised it, it really could have gone south from there. I could have been like, "He’s right. He knows the business. He knows that I won’t be able to go into this line of work."

I made the choice to go, "I don’t care what his thoughts were" because I believed in myself. There’s always going to be someone telling you, "You’re not tall enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not thin enough. You’re not this."

All these things are always going to be your demise, because this industry is ruthless in that way. I was round, brown and proud. They were the three things I always called myself, and those were considered my weaknesses. But I considered those my strengths, because those are the things that I bring to the table, that I’ve perfected, that I feel proud of, and that no one else can bring.

I always just led with that. "This is what I have to present." It’s like a cup of tea. It’s either your cup of tea, or it isn’t. But you know what? It’s going to be piping hot for the next person who has better taste.

You’ve definitely, definitely proven that teacher wrong.

[laughs] Take that!

What We Do in the Shadows airs on FX in the US and BBC Two and BBC iPlayer in the UK.

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